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Trap begins a new chapter

THERE'S a familiar rhythm to it now. Busy Irish players committed to a plan and full of self-belief but still the odd damaging lapse. Paraguay didn't have the firepower, though, and Giovanni Trapattoni has his fourth win in 11 attempts on Irish soil.

That's a statistic that brings you up short. Trapattoni has delivered just six wins in 17 games and two of them came in friendlies against World Cup qualifiers -- host nation South Africa and now Paraguay.

Trapattoni knows that he must improve on those statistics over the next 18 months or Euro 2012 will be another vale of tears.

It's a slow process. The elimination of costly mistakes remains Trapattoni's primary goal. He believes in the fundamental strength of the group he has assembled and by repetition, has programmed his players with the software they need to achieve the right result.

But there are still glitches and bugs which have to be sorted out and the only question now is whether the current group of players can do it consistently enough without the aid of fresh talent like James McCarthy or, dare we mention it, Stephen Ireland.

The potential Prodigal has cast himself in the role of orphan/waif, unloved at Eastlands and ready to tie his possessions, wrapped up in a hanky (pink), to a stick before walking away from Manchester City kicking the dirt and sobbing.

Perhaps a tad harsh but you get the picture. Many have tried to understand Ireland's foibles and failed and Roberto Mancini is now numbered among them.

But let's take a step back here. If this is simply a case of a hungry player who wants to play losing patience with a manager who doesn't fancy him, Ireland is right to leave.

He's good enough to play for the biggest clubs and if his natural competitive instinct is being stifled by neglect, nobody would criticise him for taking his fate in his own hands and moving elsewhere to pursue his ambitions.

But his past makes Ireland damaged goods and Mancini's suggestion that he needs to get his head right merely feeds the perception that his exit from Eastlands is as much about drama and personality as it is about football.

Hot air

Trapattoni was waiting for the inevitable question about Ireland and stonewalled. No profit there, only loud headlines and more hot air.

Change brings opportunity and if Ireland ends up under the wing of someone like Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, Martin O'Neill or Harry Redknapp, Trapattoni will hope that successful man management can produce dividends for club and country.

It's a forlorn hope. No manager of that status will guarantee Ireland a game every week and he appears to need that.

Privately, Trapattoni must entertain rueful thoughts about Ireland and after yesterday's news about Steven Reid's failed medical at Celtic, how fate has denied him the two best Irish midfielders of a generation.

Reid's circumstances have become almost painful to watch. His mind tells him that he will beat his knee injury but the medics don't agree.

Publicly, Trapattoni has taught us that there is little purpose in hankering after what cannot be and so Ireland is put to one side while Reid's agony continues.

The good news, of course, is that Trapattoni knows from the 90 almost blemish-free minutes we witnessed in Paris that the players he can call on are good enough against even the top nations. All that is missing is consistency of concentration.

It is a mildly scary thought, if you let your mind wander into an optimistic place, that Trapattoni is trying to build a team to do much more than qualify.

Perhaps he was a bit surprised by the level achieved against France but if that was the case, he has adapted quickly and is now setting a new standard for the squad; one which began, roughly speaking, when Martin Hansson blew for full-time in the Stade de France.

At that moment, before Thierry Henry sinned, the play-off momentum was with Ireland and a high water mark reached. Trapattoni has fixed this as the starting point for the next two years.

Better than Paris? That would be something. For the moment, we should be pleased with what we've been seeing out in Portmarnock and what was on show in The RDS last night.

Pleased also with the first 45 minutes against Brazil in the Emirates when the players carried the tempo they set in Paris to London.

It was there again against Paraguay. Confident, high-tempo football from players completely comfortable in the environment created for them by the manager.

The South Americans were harassed and harried until they ceded territory and possession. Kevin Doyle was at the sharp end of relentless pressure, using his strength to drive through defenders and put head to ball for the first goal, ignoring the immovable object which was the painfully solid right upright.


There was power on show for the second when Liam Lawrence hammered the ball past Paraguay keeper Aldo Bobadilla -- helped by a thin edge off Denis Caniza.

Trapattoni has never seen his team go two goals up before and there was always the sense that the lead might not last; that heavy legs from a 10-day lay-off would eventually impact on the players. Add to that a much improved performance from Paraguay and for a while, two goals didn't look like enough.

Up to the 58th minute when Santana and Gamarra slid passes around Paul McShane, and teed up Barrios to score, the Irish defence was never really troubled.

Cue mild panic. Paraguay finally looked like a team on the way to the World Cup and prepared to fight for a result but they didn't get it and that was the really good news from the night.

The defence held and a less than capacity crowd of under 17,000 customers walked away from The RDS in a cheerful mood.

There was more. Doyle was magnificent and will have his choice of clubs this summer. Whoever gets him will be lucky.

Andrews also shone. Confidence and recognition have brought the very best out of him and he laid down a marker for Paul Green and any other pretenders who fancy his place.

The fact that Trapattoni was able to put out most of his Paris World Cup selection for the game should be celebrated too.

Not so long ago, May/June friendlies were slow torture and not many senior men were fussed. But everyone who could turned up and, better still, turned up in decent shape. It was an entertaining game.

There's a clear sense of purpose about Trapattoni and this Irish squad. The ache of disappointment is still present but nobody is dwelling on it.

Next up Algeria and another chance to show Sepp what he'll be missing in South Africa next month. Cold comfort but comfort nonetheless.